Friday, June 19, 2009

Frameline 33 (SF LGBT Film Festival, 2009) - Opening Night!

Frameline 33: San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, the world’s premiere showcase for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender cinema, runs June 18-28, 2009, with screenings in San Francisco at the historic Castro Theatre, Roxie Theater and the Victoria Theatre, and in Berkeley at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood. Tickets are available via the website 24 hours a day, via fax, or in person at the Frameline Festival Box Office Counter.

Ah to be back, LIVE! at Frameline 33: San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival!! Opening night began at the Castro Theatre with the traditional review of past years' festival trailers, leading up to the present one. I have not spoken of this year's trailer in any of the festival preview postings leading up to tonight, as I thought I should give it another chance. That perhaps it would grow on me after a few viewings. It has not. Though it is nowhere near the enigmatic disaster that was the trailer for Frameline 26 (which continues to be annually hissed at during this "parade of trailers"), it did necessitate some explanation for its significance from the past and present President of the Board of Directors during their welcoming speech. (It seems that the projector used in the trailer is the actual projector used in the FIRST Frameline Festival, 33 years ago.) What the pair lacked in polish, they did make up in sincerity, and there was a noticeable absence of a "donation pitch" which seemed to dominate the "opening ceremonies" of the last couple of festivals I attended. (I was in Atlanta for the 2007 and 2008 Festivals.)

Eventually, Festival Director, Jennifer Morris and, freshman Executive Director, K.C. Price (he replaces Michael Lumpkin, who stepped down last year), were introduced. Mr. Price was pretty prepared and polished during the preview and press conference last month. Perhaps it was the exhaustion or a bit of opening night jitters, but tonight he seemed to fall back on a certain corporate blandness, which only made Ms. Morris appear more impish and charming than she already is. Oddly, I can't really remember a thing either of them said, other than the list of acknowledgments to this year's sponsors, members and volunteers, before introducing Richard Laxton, the director of tonight's opening feature, as well as a brief shout out to performance artist, Penny Arcade, who was in the audience and whose character figures prominently in the film.

AN ENGLISHMAN IN NEW YORK (dir. Richard Laxton, USA, 2009, 74 mins.) This is not necessarily a sequel to the 1975 film THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT (which will screen the next afternoon), though John Hurt does reprise his role as Quentin Crisp and this takes place during the last ten or fifteen years of his life. Hurt could possibly be the only prominent actor who could play the role. (In fact, I asked the question during the Q&A and the answer was that the director would not have stayed with the project without Hurt.) Hurt plays him with even broader strokes than I remember from NAKED CIVIL SERVANT. And though I am sure it is an accurate, if not artistic portrayal of the man, it does seem to throw off the chemistry of most of the rest of the cast. Laxton seemed to reach for a balance between the theatrics of Crisp and the realities of the people in his life. However, the script portrays the supporting characters as archetypes, more than real people. Cynthia Nixon comes closest to humanizing her portrayal of Penny Arcade, who is quite theatrical to begin with. However, Denis O'Hare and Jonathan Tucker (Crisp's editor, Phillip Steele and artist Patrick Angus, respectively) are left to play the "eyes of the audience" and the "soulful youth", as opposed to the actual persons. The dialogue for the character Steele is particularly stilted and nearly a series of questions to which Crisp is always at the ready with a quip. In fact, a friend (JimmyD, who worked with Steele in NYC) remarked that Crisp was written as the 'gay Yoda'. He speaks nearly exclusively in platitudes, which may have been the case in real life. However, it leaves the rest of the cast dry as far as being able to have a "real" conversation in the scene. I just don't know if it meant to be as tiresome as it seemed, even if spending that much time with Crisp could have been that in real life.

The Q&A following the film was dominated by Penny Arcade, who was not on stage, but asking a question, or actually making a few long remarks about the characters' accuracy from the audience. There was also a long, if not miscommunicated discussion between an audience member and the director about non-specific transgender roles, or some such thing. Afterwards, I wandered down to ask how involved the estate was, if at all, to which Laxton answered that most of Crisp's dialogue is in public domain, but there were some permissions that needed to be obtained from the surviving family.

I am not a big fan of Frameline's opening night parties (unlike the Closing Night Parties, which I LOVE!), so I stayed for the 10PM feature, which was briefly introduced by K.C. Price, who mistakenly promised us a Q&A afterwards.

THE COUNTRY TEACHER (Venkovský ucitel) (dir. Bohdan Sláma, Czech Republic, 2008, 113 mins.) It is sort of a late hour to be screening such a deliberately paced and languid film in Czech with subtitles. However, I never dozed once, due to the simply spectacular and technically marvelous cinematography! Director Bohdan Slama has created a film with some outrageously long takes, in which the camera seems to be completely free of any physical boundaries or mounts. (How in the hell did the camera get from the middle of the lake, up inside the cherry tree?!) The visuals float through the Czech countryside where a teacher has run away to avoid his feelings of pain from his last relationship. There he stays with a farm family, made up of a mother and son (of a fairly indiscriminate age). It isn't really a spoiler to state the plot drags on a bit as the triangle is all too obvious. That said, the climatic scene (NO SPOILER HERE) comes out of freaking NOWHERE and you could not have paid me enough as an actor to have been involved in it! I'll just say it is a mind blowing moment, which I guess is the point. Anyway, the film has a definite Eastern European pace and visual style, i.e. Bela Tarr, which I personally find fascinating and hypnotic, regardless of the relatively inanity of the plot itself. Oddly enough, as annoyed as I was with the screenplay, ("You're not into her, he's not into you, just leave them already!"), I was so visually captivated that I could not wait for the promised Q&A, which did not happen. But then again, it was after midnight when the film finished...

Maxxxxx says
re both films: "Shut up!"

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